By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
CALEDONIA — Ward 3 is, undeniably, the urban hub of Haldimand County. Although geographically the smallest of the county’s six wards, it contains the largest population and is home to much of the accelerated growth that the County has experienced in recent years.
Vying for the position of Ward 3 Councillor are incumbent Dan Lawrence, Ray Kitchen, Mark McEachern, and Julie Richardson. We spoke to all four candidates to get a sense of what they hope to bring to the role if elected next month.
Incumbent Dan Lawrence called his first term of Council “educational, challenging, and rewarding,” noting how great it has been to speak to his constituents and “help them with whatever question or concern they might have had. I embrace the opportunity to be a good listener and help the people of Ward 3, along with others, whenever they need me.”
He is also proud of the work the County did throughout the pandemic, saying they helped residents “wherever we could.”
While pleased overall with the last four years, Lawrence said there is always room for improvements, “For example, I’ll be supporting enhanced overall communication over the next term, including more transparency around projects under construction, applications for new developments, enhanced community safety initiatives, and keeping tax increases to a minimum.”
He listed some of the priorities Ward 3 residents have expressed to him over “hundreds” of conversations: “Their priorities are the continuation of low tax increases, less than 2%, enhanced road and community safety initiatives, and managing growth (housing developments) wisely and in line with growth in infrastructure. I will be a very strong and positive voice at Council to ensure these priorities get the attention and resources they deserve, and I will also look for opportunities to engage Ward 3 constituents on progress in these key areas on a regular basis.”
Lawrence shared the following message to his ward: “First, I’d like to thank all constituents for giving me the opportunity to serve and represent them over the past four years. I hope I have earned their trust and respect to work another four years on their behalf.”
He concluded, “I’ll continue to listen, engage, and respond to find solutions to their questions and concerns. I absolutely love representing Ward 3 and while much progress has been made, much work needs to be done.”
Mark McEachern is a lifelong Caledonian, living in the ward for the past 53 years. Happily married to his wife Sara and father to four girls, McEachern has sat on various community boards over the years and owns the business Hole-in-One ETC, where he claims to have helped facilitate “over 1,000 charity golf tournaments each year in Ontario since 1999.”
He said of running for Council: “It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do. I take pride in everything that goes into making a community a place we can all be proud of, and I live by the notion that ‘the community doesn’t make you, it’s you who make the community.’
He added, “I take a huge amount of pride in being a leader in everything I set out to do…. I was raised by great parents, and I’m surrounded by the very best people a man could hope to have in his life. They have all prepared me to take on this role as a municipal councillor and beyond.”
McEachern has nothing but praise for County staff, calling them “great people who show up every day to work and do a great job for us,” something he learned first-hand spending nearly 10 years as a County employee in the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments.
He cited accelerated growth as an inspiration behind his candidacy: “I want to see controlled development within my ward and the county. I want to see and learn more about what amenities are coming and how it will affect our infrastructure.”
He concluded, “I’m extremely proud and fortunate to have been born and raised here…. I love the rural countryside way of life and green space that surrounds us. I love the Grand River. I don’t mind living beside neighbours. I feel that I can connect to all the people who live in my ward. I want new residents to feel the same way I do about living here and help them understand why it’s a great place to live and call home.”
Ray Kitchen first moved to Caledonia with his wife in 2001 from the Simcoe area.
He works as a paralegal, licensed by the Law Society of Ontario, a Commissioner of Oath, and a Canadian Registered Safety Professional.
“In my profession I have been representing people and working with legislation for over 30 years. I have dealt with a number of government agencies, such as Ontario Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Human Rights Commission, and Labour Relations.”
He said the job of an elected official is to “represent the people of the community they are accountable to.”
“I have grave concerns with the direction Caledonia and surrounding areas have been going over the last few years. Large housing developments are gobbling up farmlands and eroding our small-town atmosphere.”
He continued, “I understand a large number of these homes are being purchased by landlords as an investment property and for use as rentals. Traffic congestion coming and going from Caledonia has greatly increased. The Caledonia Bridge has not been resolved despite the fact a woman lost her home and business in 2019 due to the urgency of the bridge repairs. I shudder to think what Caledonia will look like in four years if we continue down this path. In the future we need responsible, transparent, and controlled expansion taking into consideration the needs and input from the residents of our community.”
Kitchen says he has always loved the “safe, small-town environment, a community surrounded with farm land, country fairs, and community events, safe cycling and hiking trails.”
He urged all residents to get out and vote, stating, “I feel this is the most important election in the history of Caledonia. The outcome of this election can shape the future of our community.”
Julie Richardson is another lifelong Caledonia resident.
A graduate of Guelph University with a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Health, she now has 10 years of public sector experience. Currently, she is employed by Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit, where she works on implementing programs to “support the health and wellbeing of our whole community.”
In 2016, she co-founded 100 Women Who Care Haldimand, a giving group that has raised over $120,000 for non-profit organizations in Haldimand. She is also the current chair of the West Haldimand General Hospital Board of Directors.
“I am running now because I do not see diversity at the decision-making table. We need to anticipate the future needs of our community and diversity in perspectives will only help to strengthen decision-making for Haldimand County,” said Richardson on her campaign. “I want to make Council more accessible for the average citizen and build engagement in Council processes. I want to communicate Council processes and decisions in a way that is accessible to the average citizen.”
Richardson has been busy campaigning: “So far, challenges I am hearing are road safety and cyclist/pedestrian safety, concern of when the Argyle Street Bridge will be replaced, frustration with housing development coming before infrastructure, lack of public transportation, desire for connected access to green space and parks, LaFortune Park not being used to its full potential, and many others.”
Her overarching priorities include fostering a vibrant, inclusive community, communication and engagement in Council processes and decisions, and responsible and sustainable growth.
“I will advocate for these priorities while working collaboratively with Council and staff to address priorities across the County,” she explained. “I will be available to listen actively to Ward 3 residents and engage community members to hear their views and to work with community organizations to address challenges in the community.”
Ultimately, Richardson loves the community spirit present in Ward 3: “Whether that be local business, service groups, or volunteers – there are so many people who play a part to make this community special.”